Are You Okay? Music Execs at Billboard Live Music Summit On How One Question Goes a Long Way for Mental Health
Panelists talk about eliminating stigmas that are causing a mental health crisis for the music industry.
With the continued loss of musicians, stars and executives in the industry, music professionals are trying to find more ways to bring awareness to mental health issues plaguing the industry. On Wednesday (Nov. 14), the Billboard Live Music Summit hosted a panel titled Shattering the Stigma: It’s Time to Talk About Mental Health where professionals discussed to ways to keep the industry safer.
“I've been doing this for a long time. I have a couple hundred artists,” said press company Biz 3 owner, Kathryn Frazier. “I got sick of seeing people get famous and get what they want and most of them are unhappy. Whether they’re mildly unhappy, filled with anxiety and depression or more serious sex, love, or alcohol or drug addicts. The most extreme version of that is death.”
Moderator and Billboard’s senior correspondent for touring and live entertainment, Dave Brooks, followed up with whether or not an artist’s welfare in typically in the hands of their publicist.
“You don’t have to appear to be helping people. All you have to do is look at another human being and ask ‘Are you okay? What’s going on?’” Frazier said. “I have some artists where they literally fall into your arms and will tell you everything. It is simply asking.”
Frazier adds that asking open-ended questions without diagnosing or assuming anything about the artist is a good way to open up communication. It gives the artist the opportunity to be heard and allows a conversation about solutions.
Panels at the Summit were eager proponents of therapy, which can still carry a great deal of stigma in many communities.
“I go to therapy. I have zero problem talking about it. I think it's fantastic,” said AEG Presents head of global touring, Gary Gersh.
Gersh added that musician Peter Gabriel advised him to start going to couples therapy as soon as he got back from his honeymoon and to think of it as a preventative measure like having your oil changed.
Maverick partner Nick Jarjour explained that he had an artist who was going through a serious breakup and Jarjour took the time suggest therapy for the struggling artist.
Jarjour told the artist, “The best thing to do is just speak to this therapist as if they could help with that one situation only. It was really chill and the light thing. They ended up continuing to go to therapy and it changed their life in so many profound ways. I think those moments of vulnerability are crucial and we need to know when to step in.”
“We need more moments like when Jay-Z did his New York Times interview and said the most important thing I’ve ever done was learn to be vulnerable. I did start to cry when I saw that,” said Frazier. “We need more of that. We need people to step up and say ‘Yeah, I go to therapy.’”
Sabrina Khan from Project Healthy Minds & Briovatoin echoed that call, stating that Ariana Grande received an overwhelming amount of support when she spoke out about going to therapy on social media.
“Ariana Grande tweeted on Nov. 5 about going to therapy. She talked about how it saved her life multiple times,” said Khan. “That is one of her most engaged tweets over the past four months and that is taking into consideration that she had an album, she had a number one single, she had a breakup, an engagement and another breakup. Celebrities and musicians have the opportunity to start the conversation, to change the narrative on mental health.”
Besides the stigma around therapy, the panel also made it clear that not everyone has easy access to good mental health care. There are financial barriers for some, as well as time constraints.
Erica Kruesen, director of health and human services for MusiCares, said that the Grammy’s philanthropic arm provides access to therapy for those in the industry and works with therapists on costs for continued sessions.
“So often, so many people come to MusiCares at the crisis point and say, ‘what do we do?’” said Krusen. “If we talk to the managers and the agents and promoters and the people that are responsible for the artists and the touring crew before the tour even begins…and arm them with resources just in case something happens on the road.”
Krusen added that Warped Tour founder Kevin Lyman has had her talk with artists and touring crews before they go out on the road and discuss some of the pitfalls they may face.
“Speaking up early is crucial,” said Frazier.
Music and musicians have “the opportunity culturally is to expand the public’s understanding of mental health and to expand our consciousness, to not view it as a binary of you’re either totally fine or you’re on anti-depressants because you’re suicidal,” said Phil Schermer of Project Healthy Minds & BlackRock. “Rather, [mental health] is a spectrum like fitness where you can engage in micro habits to stay healthy.”